Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Gweilo Dojo: FORCE: FIVE (1981)

If you are a martial arts fan, you probably heard the news that Joe Lewis passed away yesterday at the age of 68 due to a brain tumor.  Lewis was one of the martial arts trailblazers in U.S. during the 1960s and 70s.  He trained with everyone (including Bruce Lee) and fought some of the top guys in competition including Bob Wall and Chuck Norris.  Naturally, Hollywood, hungry for anyone who could throw a kick, called and Lewis had a rather inauspicious cinema debut with the action flick JAGUAR LIVES! (1979). Surrounded by an all-star cast (Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Barbara Bach, Capucine, John Huston, Woody Strode), Lewis got to show the stuff that made him a legend in the martial arts world onscreen.  Unfortunately, this James Bond-with-kicks flick didn’t really take with audiences, despite Lewis being a better actor than the wooden Chuck Norris at the time.  Hollywood decided to give him another shot and for his sophomore feature, he found himself in the capable hands of director Robert Clouse in the powerfully alliterative FORCE: FIVE.  

Not wasting any time cashing in on the Jim Jones tragedy, FORCE: FIVE centers on a religious guru named Reverend Rhee (Bong Soo Han), whose island compound has proven a retreat for affluent children everywhere. We’re told in no uncertain cinematic terms he is evil because he makes everyone shout “Love! Love! Love!”  Well, that and the fact that he has his henchmen torture a failed assassin by shoving acupuncture needles into his nerves.  Seems someone named Stark (Michael Prince) wants to get rid of Rhee real bad.  Back in the good ol’ U.S.A., Stark hires special agent Jim Martin (Lewis) to finish the job.  Seems a girl named Cindy (Amanda Wyss), a Senator’s wayward daughter, is living on the compound and daddy wants her back.  Also, they suspect Rhee’s religious principles – which are oddly centered on a bull – might include the rare 11th Commandment of “Thou shalt support terrorists with illegal guns and cocaine profits.”

Martin agrees to the job, but says he needs five top folks to accompany him to the island to get the job done.  Hey, including him, wouldn’t that make them Force: Six?  Anyway, we then get the requisite character intros.  Billy (Benny “The Jet” Urquidez) is shown selling ponchos (!) to tourists before he gets the call; Lockjaw (Sonny Barnes) is on the run from a motorcycle gang that he eventually beats up; Ezekiel (Richard Norton) wins a game of pool and then roughs up the losers when they object to paying up; and Laurie (Pam Huntington) roughs up Martin when he shows up blindfolded and dressed in a tux.  Hey, that is only four people.  Martin informs the team they are also getting Willard (Ron Hayden).  Oh no, not Willard!  That crazy sumbitch?  Yup, and the team gets their first mini-mission by heading down to break him out of a prison in Ecuador.  Things go smoothly as the team rescues him (naturally, he lives in luxury in jail) and they prepare to head to the island.  The ruse is they are assistants and helicopter pilots for Senator Forrester (Peter MacLean), who is coming down to check out the religious compound.

Once on the island, the team gets to work uncovering what is really going on.  You know something is up as Rhee is overly welcoming, despite his muscle bound henchman Carl (Bob Schott) giving the pilots faking a helicopter repair grief every ten seconds.  The Senator proves to be easily swayed as he is blown away by a performance of Rhee’s disciples singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” while confetti chokes the air. Seriously, I’ve never seen confetti so thick.  Obviously this is where Jim Jones screwed up as pageantry gets ‘em every time.  Anyway, also on the island is John (Dennis Mancini), an undercover New York Times reporter, who soon finds out why Rhee is so into bulls.  Seems he has one in an underground maze and it mauls John to death.  Now ain’t that some bullshit? Meanwhile, Martin is sneaking around and discovers the cache of drugs and guns, while Laurie tries to convince Cindy that things aren’t what they seem and she shouldn’t sign her trust fund over to Rhee.  After all, should you really trust any organization that allows Tom Villard to be a part of it?  It is all setting up for a finale where martial artists Martin and Rhee must kick, er, face off.

It seems Lewis really got no favors for his second flick as director Robert Clouse is intent on ripping off his biggest hit, ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  The set ups for both films are nearly identical with the island fortress.  The only difference is these people practice love rather than karate (although they do oddly have a great command of hand-to-hand combat when it comes down to it).  The production did at least try to surround Lewis with some capable co-stars. Urquidez and Norton are both accomplished martial artists in their own right and both men get moments to shine.  Norton’s highlight, however, is when he throws a circular saw blade into a man (something later ripped off in Schwarzenegger’s COMMANDO) and then quips in his thick Australian accent, “Thank God for Black and Deck-aaaaaaaaahhhhhh.”  To save the curious viewer 95 minutes, here I present to you the film's three biggest highlights:

The other problem with this film is it very flat, almost seeming like a TV movie that somehow got unleashed in theaters. It definitely lacks the big budget style of ENTER or Clouse’s previous Jackie Chan vehicle THE BIG BRAWL (1980) or even GOLDEN NEEDLES (1974).  The script also does the film no favors with the out-of-left-field end confrontation between Martin and Rhee.  Obviously trying to ape ENTER’s famous mirror scene, they have the men search for each other in the smoke filled maze.  Oh, did I forget to mention that Rhee has the ability to disappear at will?  This head scratching ability (it is never mentioned at all) kind of shows you where the film is it.  Basically, they don't give a damn.  It is one of those films where the characters take off at the end and the image freezes on the airborne helicopter as the credits roll, as if to say, “C’mon, let’s get out of here and head to the bar.” If anything, FORCE: FIVE’s legacy will be having provided the makers of ZOMBI 3 (1988) some artwork “inspiration.”  Seriously, compare this poster with the one above.

Sadly, this marked the end of Lewis’ leading man career.  Despite having good looks and decent acting chops, he didn’t do another film until the HK cheapie DEATH CAGE (1988) with Robin Shou.  He also had a small supporting role in the loopy-as-hell kung fu serial killer flick BLOODMOON (1997) starring Gary Daniels.  Both films get the Video Junkie Seal of Approval.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cine M.I.A. #5: OPERATION LAS VEGAS (1988)

Although we haven’t fully had a chance to show it yet, we’re huge fans of Richard Harrison here at Video Junkie.  If the man had a theme song it would be “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson as he is one of the few American actors who traveled the globe in search of the next production to star in.  Harrison got his start in Hollywood in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  He quickly jetted off to Rome, Italy because the sword and sandal craze was in full swing and Harrison, an early body building enthusiast, fit the Herculean mold perfectly. From there his good looks easily allowed him to transition to Spaghetti Westerns, where he famously turned down A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS but told director Sergio Leone to cast his friend, Clint something-or-other.  The 1970s proved even more prolific and no subgenre was untouched by the man. Bondsploitation, Bruceploitation, Poliziotteschi, Naziplotiation, Voodoo flicks – you name it and he was in it.

The early-to-mid 1980s increased Harrison’s cinematic legend even more with a series of action films made in the Philippines and the infamous Godfrey Ho ninja films in Hong Kong. According to Harrison, he signed on for a few ninja films, but the footage he shot was later used to pad out dozens of releases with titles like NINJA HOLOCAUST and COBRA VS. NINJA.   By the end of the decade, Harrison had returned to the United States and hooked up with several filmmakers for a series of low budget action films (like Fred Olen Ray’s TERMINAL FORCE).  During this period, he did a stint in Las Vegas where he starred in Charles Nizet’s RESCUE FORCE and the subject of our latest CineM.I.A., OPERATION LAS VEGAS.  Directed by the notorious N.G. Mount (aka Norbert Moutier), this action epic is truly a dream for fans of “so bad, it’s good” cinema.

Richard Harrison acting like
he's never seen a ninja before!
OPERATION LAS VEGAS opens with a guy putting some plans into a briefcase and handcuffing it to his wrist.  Obviously they are important as a hitman named Peralta (Pierre Agostino, hiding behind the pseudonym Peter Gold) chops off the poor dude’s hand and scurries away with the plans. What’s in these plans?  We’re never told.  But they must be important as the White House has given C.I.A. man Parker (John Van Dreelen) just 24 hours to get them back.  Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s plans to get a remake of BEDTIME FOR BONZO going?  Anyway, this job calls for only one man and that is Jefferson (Richard Harrison), who is, naturally, on vacation.  Jefferson gets right back into the thick of things as ninjas attack him the second he gets the phone call from Parker.  He disposes of them with little flair (no screams of “ninjjjjjjja” or puffs of smoke; did Harrison not learn anything from Godfrey Ho?) and heads to Las Vegas to meet up with his superiors.

Once in Las Vegas, Jefferson quickly picks up a “babe” at the airport in Britta (Brigitte Borghese) and offers her a ride to her hotel (in a hilarious bit, he offers her a ride in his limousine and they walk to a Ford Taurus station wagon). Coincidentally, Jefferson and Britta are both booked at the same hotel Whiskey Pete’s (is the Government holding out on him or what?).   Jefferson meets with Parker and hilariously gets brought up to speed on the situation by his old buddy Nick (Derek A. Smith).  


The No-so-Wild Bunch
What no one knows is that G-man Gordon (Walter G. Zeri) has been double crossing the agency and sets up a meeting with Peralta to get the plans.  In one of the films odder scenes, Peralta is captured in the desert, flown to another part of the desert, and then killed. Hmmmm, seems like Gordon is not only a duplicitous type, but he also is an airplane fuel hog.  So now Gordon has the plans and heads to meet up with the terrorists and their leader, Rachid (Mark Kusmuk).  He leads a rather pathetic group of about 7 folks who live out in the desert and they literally put the “rag” in ragtag.  Apparently Gordon didn’t really think this through as Rachid informs him, “You know no one is allowed to leave here alive.”  D’oh!  But that is okay as Gordon will get to check out the arrival of the terrorists’ new leader.  This person is so strong and rules with an iron fist.  Only one person can whip this group into shape and it is none other than – dramatic pause – Britta!  This news officially makes Jefferson the least perceptive C.I.A. agent alive.  Anyway, Britta has a super duper plan where she will kidnap jet pilot Maria Swenson (Maria Francesce, Richard Harrison’s wife) and replace her with a double at a local air show so she can get a hold of a nuclear warhead. Because we all know that local air shows use live nuclear weapons during their stunt shows. It adds an extra thrill for the audience.  With this device, she plans to extort the U.S. Government for $1 billion dollars or she will blow up Hoover Dam.  So Jefferson, Nick and a team of elite soldiers suit up to take the terrorists out.  Hey, whatever happened to those plans?  Your guess is as good as mine.

"Beyoooond the Thunderdome!"
With its cheapo production values, ridiculous plotting and equally ridiculous dubbing, it is easy to see why OPERATION LAS VEGAS is still M.I.A. on home video in the United States. At the same time, it is kind of ironic given the sheer volume of other lesser Harrison starrers that did make it to the U.S. shelves.  I mean, this has ninjas and explosions too so why did it get snubbed by U.S. distributors?  Yeah, I’ll say it out loud – it ain’t Harrison’s worst flick by far. With films like MIAMI CONNECTION getting a new lease on life due to its wacky presentation, there is no reason this shouldn’t also be ready for cult fans.  What is not to like?  You have Richard Harrison, ninjas, mercenaries, terrorists, wonky dialogue, and more.  Plus, the film features one of the strangest female villains in the history of cinema with actress Brigitte Borghese.  A veteran of French exploitation, Borghese gives her all as Britta (as in the water filter?).  Unfortunately, her all isn't that much.  Seeing her in her bouncing around in a ninja outfit is hilarious enough, but then you get scenes like this:


Just another day on the Vegas strip
You have to respect any movie with a scene like that.  Or a film that has a guy on roller skates wearing panty hose over his head kidnapping someone.  You just have to.  It is funny this was made the same time as the aforementioned Nizet feature RESCUE FORCE as they seem like companion pieces. Hell, Nizet even has a small role in this and helped make the explosions.  This is the kind of film that is so obscure that most of the actors have no idea if it ever even got released and get the shock of their life when a clip ends up on Youtube. That is exactly what happened to co-star Derek A. Smith.  A Las Vegas resident at the time with a background in martial arts and self defense training, Smith had been featured in several Hollywood productions that rolled the dice in the city of sin.  But he probably had no idea what he was signing up for with this French produced action flick.  Smith contacted me last year regarding the earlier shown clip showcasing him and Richard Harrison.  Labeled “Worst dubbing job EVER!!!” the clip provided Smith a glimpse at the heretofore unseen film.  Looking for a copy, I offered to send him one for a price – he must answer my questions about this obscure and still M.I.A. on home video movie.  A truly deadly price to pay, but he soldiered though and offered the following amusing replies.

Video Junkie: When exactly was the film shot (I've deduced probably the late 80s due to clothing)?

Derek Smith: I cannot remember exactly.  I was in Las Vegas from 1983-1992. (VJ note: Our super detective skills have narrowed the timeframe down to early 1988 due to Harrison reading the February 1988 issue of Penthouse at one point.)

VJ: How did you come to be cast in the film?

DS: I was with a casting agency.  I had been in a number of movies and TV shows in Las Vegas, primarily as an extra.  I received a call to try for this role. The liked me because I had a martial arts background even though I did not get to use it.

VJ: How long did you work on the film?

DS: I believe it was for a week.

Harrison likes Smith's style
VJ: Do you know what the budget was?

DS: No idea, but obviously not much, LOL.  Another thing, there was no wardrobe for me. The clothes I have on in the movie were the clothes I showed up in. They did provide the Army uniform though.

VJ: Do you know how exactly N.G. Mount (aka Norbert Moutier) and his production ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada of all places to shoot?

DS: No, I just got the call and showed up and went to work.  It was a little difficult because he spoke absolutely no English. The movie was supposed to be shot in English and dubbed in French.  I am so glad I finally got to see it.

VJ: What was Mount like?

DS: I remember him as a nice guy.  Of course, things were moving fast and there was a language barrier but he was nice.

VJ: Did the film have any sort of screening for locals?

DS: No, as far as I know they wrapped and went right back to France.  The crew was quite small.

VJ: What was your reaction to the final product?

DS: It sucked.  Just kidding! No I am not, it really sucked.  But I am happy to have it and to have been in a movie.  I wish they would have flown me to France for the premier though. After all I was the star’s best buddy in the film.

VJ: What was Richard Harrison like to work with?

DS: He was a very nice guy.  We had never met before and in my mind he was a big star, but he did not act like it.  He joked with me, was nice and patient and helped me quite a bit.  We got most of our scenes in one take though, so I was not a pain to him or the director.

VJ: Any funny anecdotes from the shoot?

DS: There was one for me.  If you watch the movie, when I get killed by the mine we walk up to it with no problem.  We see the mine and I go try to disarm it.  After I am killed everyone just walks on like there are no other mines.  So basically, I was killed by the only mine in the entire desert, LOL.

LOL indeed!  Here is the scene Smith mentions (he assures me that is not his real voice) and it truly shows he is the world’s unluckiest soldier to stumble upon that lone landmine in that expansive desert.  Nick’s bravery will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We may not be the kind of slackers who can sit around and watch kaiju all day, waxing lyrical about the subtle nuances between Toho's Baragon and Daiei's Barugon (a big set of ears, right Aaron?) and dreaming about who would win in a fight; Gamera or Godzilla. Ok, maybe we have thought about that last one, and one of us, I'm not going to name any names, may have shelled out a whopping $50 for an unsubtitled bootleg tape of a brandspanking new Godzilla movie at one time, but even though we are not kaiju-uber-nerds, that doesn't me we don't have some serious love for Japan's rubber-suited monster epics. No siree Boburu-san!

The pinnacle of the entire genre is, in my mind, Shusuke Kaneko's re-invention of the rather cheesy series about a flying, fire-breathing turtle that is a friend to children and enemy of inhabitable objects. Massive production values and an exceptional eye for detail that had been even the cheesiest of Godzilla films cannot lay a claw on. I mean seriously, did you ever seen Godzilla show a penchant for beating their rivals with rocks? Using a gymnastics bar? Fighting a giant albino werewolf? Yeah, ok, so that's one for Godzilla. To think a mere 15 years prior, Daiei had brought the world Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON. As much as I love Gamera, there's got to be some Daiei employee out there who weeps over this fact.

If only George Lucas would rip-off Gamera...

After the first series of seven films ran their course, Daiei had intended to keep that train rolling with another sequel for release in 1972. Sadly Daiei had some serious mismanagement issues attributed to it's long-time president Masaichi Nagata and went bankrupt in '71 leaving the long unseen GAMERA VS. GARASHARP dead in early stages of production. In 1974 a multimedia publishing company, Tokuma Shoten, bought Daiei and decided to revive (ie: cash-in on) Gamera to go head to head in theaters with what turned out to be an unproduced Godzilla film (GODZILLA VS. BAGAN or THE RESURRECTION OF GODZILLA). For some unexplained reason, the executives at the new Daiei had so little faith in the resurrection of the Gamera, that they not only produced a cheap, cobbled together mess, but decided to kill him off at the same time! "Just give us yer money and shuddap, kids!" This seriously counter-intuitive thought process is what gave us SPACE MONSTER GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER, a complete trainwreck of hacked-up footage and impoverished, slap-dash production incorporating classic battles taken from the original series with a wtf-were-they-smokin' new plot line that flails about trying to exploit any recent hit that they could think of, from STAR WARS(1977) to SUPERMAN (1978), in order to get the kids into the theater. I can think of no better way to spend 90 minutes of my life.

Opening with an amazingly long-winded prologue about how the evil Zanon space ship (which happens to be flying over the camera in a way that reminds me of something, what could it be?) is headed to Earth to destroy it. Why? Zanon is evil. What more do you need to know? The Vogon-esque announcement broadcast over the earth helps a little. A disembodied voice announces that they will be taking over earth and they have monsters. So there you are. The Zanon decide to start with Japan since it is the location of three Space Women, led by Kilara (pro wrestler Mach Fumiake) who all are disguised as Earth chicks with jobs and apartments. Apparently their world was destroyed by the Zanon, who have an entire planet of monsters that they use to conquer other planets. The Space Women communicate with audio tones that come through their earrings, at which point they drop everything, do something that looks like the Macarena and transform into their red and white superhero tights. Oh, and instead of spending their evenings at their Earthling apartments, they shrink down to doll size so that they can spend the night in a pet carrier, inside of something that looks like a chintzy version of the Mystery Machine. Also, their vehicles are installed with a small Casio keyboard that they can use to play a tune that will turn their vehicles into a flying pubic censorship dot. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up:

In the same town lives a kid named Keiichi (Koichi Maeda) who will someday be candidate for an early parole. One of his favorite things to do is play "The Camptown Ladies" on his mom's organ. When his friends show up with a comic book the size of the Atlanta telephone directory, he gets way too excited about the Gamera story, in which Gamera is in the form of a normal turtle, doing tricks to the amazement of a local policeman (we never knew how good we had it with the old movie plots, I guess). So excited is he about potentially-mutatable super-turtles, that his friend Kilara gives him one from her pet shop. Keiichi picks one that he claims can speak to him and then composes a song in it's honor, while feeling a strong sense of sadness for the lonely life of a turtle. This kid has a long road ahead of him.

Gyaos is destroying stuff! Yep, out of nowhere we get (stock footage of) Gyaos slicing stuff in half with his laser breath. At the same time we discover that the Zanon have their own Space Woman, Giruge (Keiko Kudo) except she's evil. You know this because her polyester super-suit is black and red. She's also armed with a wristwatch that lights up any time that the good Space Chicks use their space powers. As it turns out the Zanon (via disembodied voice) are afraid that the Pet Shop Girls will be able to defeat them, even though they have lots of monsters. Did I mention that they are in control of "The Planet Where Monsters Come From"? Well, they are. Perhaps there is an intergalactic treaty that states that potential planetary conquerors can only use one monster at a time, as it would seem much easier to unleash them all in a giant horde, rather than send one monster at a time, while your solitary agent tries to hunt down three girls in tights who sleep in a van. Then again, I guess I haven't had much success in conquering worlds, so what do I know? Gamera picks up the gauntlet, much to Keiichi's delight, and a ruckus ensues, as luck would have it, over an oil refinery. There go the gas prices... again!

So excited to see his favorite flying turtle is Keiichi, that he immediately composes a (or I should say the, because there is nothing else quite like it) "Gamera March" and subsequently plays it for the Space Woman in their human apartment, which may not be furnished with beds, but it does have a giant organ up against one wall. The organ is not only used for playing Keiichi's Gamera March, but it also functions as the television remote. Oh, I bet the neighbors love these girls. The Space Women draw inspiration from Keiichi's "Gamera March" and decide that the only way to deal with these alien invaders is to actively solicit Gamera's help! Never mind that he already seems to be doing that anyway. We are never shown how getting his help is actually accomplished, but it seems to involve the Space Girls being shot at by a lasers fired from the orbiting Zanon ship.

From here on out it is one monster after another invading Earth and Giruge's desperate hunt for the Space Women. Her boss is, understandably, pissed, firmly believing that if the Space Women are killed, then Gamera won't be worth squat and one of their monsters will kick his burnin' butt back into the ocean and they can take over what is left of Earth in peace. Eh, you know how bosses are. Zigra is next complete with Gamera's "rock" concert, then Viras (complete with another scene where it looks like they should get a room). After Viras is dispatched Jiger shows up, looking like he's ready for the after-party complete with a coke-tooter in each nostril. Guiron takes a turn, with everyone's favorite scenes included (kaiju gymastics). Finally Barugon, who must have struck terror into the hearts of little republicans everywhere by attacking and destroying a nations military defense arsenal with - a rainbow. Oh yeah, give that a minute to sink in. It all becomes clear now, doesn't it? All the while Kilara and company try to avoid being killed by Giruge's laser orbital air-strikes, teleportation tricks, disintegration car-bombs, mind-control saucers and seduction via what appears to be a meatless hamburger. Plus, we do get a pretty amusing fight scene between Giruge and Kilara, though for some inexplicable reason the producers felt this would be more exciting in street clothes rather than their super-suits. Maybe they were at the cleaners.

All of the monster battles are, of course, culled from the original series, with only about a minutes worth of new Gamera footage, which is essentially static shots, shot on video and composited over cheap miniatures, or more bizarrely, anime footage (WTF is SPACE CRUISER YAMATO doing in here?). All of these scenes are spliced in with less finesse than a Godfrey Ho outing and sometimes have no apparent connection to anything else in the movie. I can just see them in the editing room shouting "Hurry up and get it done! We just bought a bankrupt studio and need some cash!" That said, they obviously put some effort, no matter how misguided into the new footage, which is the bulk of the running time. During one battle the filmmakers cut in a (obviously) new shot of Gamera's tail knocking over a sandwich board advertising Godzilla. Ummm, pretty sure Gamera's superiority over Godzilla wasn't proven for another 15 years. Sloppy? Sure. Cheap? Definitely. Fun? Damn straight, and don't let the hipster, bedheads who read un-translated manga tell you otherwise.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: EARTHQUAKE (1974)

Born from the popular disaster subgenre that popped up in the early 1970s, Universal’s EARTHQUAKE follows the pattern of the same studio’s AIRPORT (1970) – the granddaddy of this catastrophe cycle – by featuring an all-star cast.  The poster teased audiences with named like Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, and Walter Matuschanskayasky. Okay, maybe not that last guy (Walter Matthau's pseudonym for his cameo).  Ordinary folks would pay to see this ensemble play ordinary folks who must fight the odds during a natural disaster that rips Los Angeles apart.  In addition to the big name cast, the poster simply promised audiences “An Event…” that would be presented in Sensurround, a new, cutting edge sound technology developed specifically for this film.

EARTHQUAKE was originally announced in September 1971.  Universal was hoping to recreate the success of the previous year’s AIRPORT and the perfect plot fell in their lap in early 1971 with the San Fernando earthquake.  I can see some bleary-eyed Universal exec being jolted awake in their waterbed and – following the quake’s 60 second 6.6 magnitude rumbling – going “I got it!” Initially director John Sturges, fresh off ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968) and MAROONED (1969), and screenwriter Mario Puzo, having adapting his book into some obscure movie called THE GODFATHER (1972), were attached to the project.  Something happened along the way to Puzo’s career (wink, wink) and he only wrote two drafts before leaving.  He was replaced by a mysterious George Fox, who received co-writing credit with this being his only screenwriting credit.  Read into that what you will.  Along the way, Sturges left and veteran director Mark Robson signed on in October 1973.  The aforementioned cast was quickly assembled and the film went into production in early 1974, making its November 1974 release date with ease.  The film was an instant success as it managed to shake $79,666,653 from U.S. audiences’ wallets, making the film the 6th highest grossing film at the box office that year.  Adjusted for inflation, that figured would be $338,056,400 in 2012 dollars.  Not bad for a film that cost an estimated $7,000,000 (which would be roughly $30,000,000 today; not that Hollywood could control itself if they made a film like this nowadays).

As with our previous editing examination entry TWO-MINTUE WARNING (1976), EARTHQUAKE (1974) also benefitted from studio reshoots in order to expand the film for its network television debut.  During the summer of 1976, Gene Palmer (Robson refused to participate) shot several new scenes to add an additional 20 plus minutes of footage so that the film could unspool over two nights for NBC on their “The Big Event,” the network’s rebrand/replacement of the NBC Mystery Movie.  The film debuted in two parts on Sunday, September 26, and Monday, September 27.  Ever the thinkers, NBC also played the Sensurround audio on an FM channel in the Los Angeles and New York markets.  As it had at the box office, EARTHQUAKE rattled audiences again. According to the September 29, 1976 issue of Variety, the 90-minute first entry of the film pulled in an astounding 41 share of the television audience.  No doubt a majority of that crowd tuned in to see the further adventures of Jody Joad (Marjoe Gortner), one of the beneficiaries of the new footage.

The television version kicks off with new footage right away as aerial footage of the San Andreas Fault is shown. Running a minute and twenty seconds, the footage is accompanied with a doom and gloom voiceover that informs and warns viewers about the potential of earthquakes.
“Virtually the entire Pacific coast of our hemisphere rests on a series of geologic faults.  One of the most unstable of these is the San Andreas Fault, running 600 miles through the state of California.  Some sections of the fault are slipping.  The two sides are sliding past each other slowly.  The strains accumulating are being dissipated rather harmlessly without generating large earthquakes.  At two points, however, the sides of the Fault are locked, permitting no slippage.  Elastic strain energy is being built up.  Invisibly, the land is being compressed and warped, storing energy like a colossal spring under the crust of the earth.  Many scientists feel this energy will break loose and a cataclysmic earthquake will occur within the next decade.  Others feel it can happen tomorrow.  One of the critical points is north of San Francisco, the other just a few miles east of Los Angeles.”

Surprisingly, not a lot of footage is cut from the theatrical version of the film.  Before any new footage shows up, there are a few small alterations.  The first excision is a 20 second scene that shows Denise Marshall (Genevieve Bujold) at home with her son just before creepy old man Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) shows up.  She tells him to get ready for school and the young boy leaves the kitchen and is quickly shown going to fix his bed.

Perhaps more interesting are the edits relating to Lou Slade, the police officer character essayed by George Kennedy.  In the first half hour, several scenes that show him in a negative light are removed.  First, his disciplinary hearing removes him telling his superior that the officer he punched out earlier was a “peckerwood rich man’s whore.”  Later, there is a 40 second scene where Jody is annoyed at some Harikrishnas outside of his grocery store and asks Slade to get rid of them.  The bitter cop responds, “You got something against religion?” and leaves.

The other removal happens a few scenes later and involves Slade breaking up a bar fight by throwing one dude into a row of cues on the wall.  Police brutality, yes!  Slade says the shot counted (the fight started because a tremor had moved the ball) and then resumes his place at the bar.  The drunk at the end of the bar (Walter Matthau) raises his shot glass and mumbles, “Bobby Riggs” (the U.S. tennis player) to which Slade agrees with a nod and takes a drink.  So the TV version wants us to think Irish cops don’t fight and drink.  Riiiiight.

The first major bit of new footage appears around the 28 minute mark in the television version.  After the scene where the folks at the dam notice the water level is rising, we are introduced to newlyweds Tony (Sam Chew) and Kathie (Debralee Scott) on a plane flight to Los Angeles.  By sheer coincidence (or lazy screenwriting), Tony is on his way to interview with Graff’s architecture firm and he is boning up by reading a mag with Heston’s picture on the front.

Man, he is really into that magazine.  Gee, I wonder what the centerfold looks like?

We cut to the captain (Frank Parker) and his crew and he mentions that they are passing over the Grand Canyon and that he’ll turn the plane to the right so everyone can see (amusing, the filmmakers then show a POV inside a cockpit and the plane tilts to the left).  As the pilot gives some info, Kathie looks out the window bored.

Kathie doesn’t seem too happy to be moving to L.A. and she certainly doesn’t approve of Tony’s man crush (“Ever since we’ve been married, all you do is talk or read about that man.  It’s like I don’t even exist.”)  Anyway, this marriage is the definition of opposites attract as his wife wants to read his future (with a deck of playing cards!). Naturally, she sees bad things in the future and even says “there is danger to travel at this time, possibility of death” (no joke, accompanied by a loud piano sting).

The Ace of Spades! The Ace of Spades!

A few scenes later the TV version eliminates a 32 second scene with Graff drinking with his paramour Denise.  They open a bottle of wine and he mentions about what he will tell his wife.  Amusingly, they cut this out but leave in the next scene where she talks about how angry Graff was when he made love to her.  Drinking, bad.  Angry sexing, good.

At the 45-and-a-half minute mark, the TV version offers its biggest expansion in a nearly 7 minute scene involving Jody and his obsession with motorcycle chick Rosa Amici (Victoria Principal).  In the theatrical release version, Jody has just left his store for National Guard duty while Rosa has left her brother Sal (Gabriel Dell) and daredevil Mile Quade (Richard Roundtree) after wanting no part of their crazy motorcycle stunt.  They dub in the new line “I’m going home to change into some fresh duds.”  In the newly shot footage, she is at home after taking a shower.  Jody shows up and proceeds to be the worst stalker ever as he laughably peeps in full view in front of a full length window.

Oh yeah, those fresh duds she was changing into?  The same outfit she had on before.  Not that I am complaining about Principal in that top.  Jody finally gets up the nerve to knock on the door.  She thinks he’s there to collect the money from her grocery bill that he let her out of earlier, but Jody says the National Guard has been called up and he just wanted to check to see if she is okay.  Despite being creeped out, she invites him in (!), allowing him to get his major creep on.  When she asks how he knew where she lived (shouldn’t you ask that before he comes in?), he says, “I followed you home at night just to make sure you got home safely.”  Red flag no. 1!  He then proceeds to tell her that her place isn’t very neat and “my mother wasn’t either.”  Jesus!  Red flag the size of Texas there!  She then says, “Look, I was going to go to a movie.  You want to go with me?”  GOOD GOD!  Chicks love them bad boys.  He declines (what kind of stalker is this dude?), but places her in a chair and says, “You just stay right here.”

This Jody/Rosa footage has created some confusion in viewers over the years, with some folks theorizing it was left on the cutting room floor of the initial production.  That is not the case as this was shot exclusively for the TV version. You can tell because it is very flatly shot (unlike the rest of EARTHQUAKE), it isn’t subtle at all (note the picture of Sal on Rosa’s wall), and Principal is wearing a similar but different wig.  To confuse you even more, there is a deleted scene from the original later where Rosa is heading to the movies and a biker (Reb Brown) asks if she wants a ride.  She says no and hops on a bus.

On his way home, Jody stops to admire a burning building and remarks at how beautiful it is.  Okay, we get it, he’s wacko!  One guy watching says, “We’ll probably have more fires from the aftershocks” to which one old man says, “Boy, I hope not.”

Jody heads home and we return to the theatrical cut, but the TV folks remove the line when the three guys harassing him call him a fag (more on that later).  Immediately following this scene, the next small removal from the theatrical version is a 48 second scene of Graff in his office talking to a potential client about earthquake safety regulations.  This fat cat doesn’t want to spend the money, but Graff tells him he must.  This guy is the one who later throws the woman out of the elevator before it freefalls to the ground.  Things to glean from EARTHQUAKE: if you try to cut corners on safety regulations, you will die!

Next up is a removal that I 100% disagree with.  The TV version takes out the bit where Miles botches his first attempt at the loop jump.  When the film was shot, the stuntman didn’t complete the loop and it resulted in a spectacular looking crash.  Never ones to pass up a good moment, the filmmakers worked it into the final film.  In a movie filled with jaw dropping moments, this might be the best.  Network viewers never knew what they were missing.


At the 57 minutes and 30 seconds mark, we return to the plane for a short 50 second scene.  It just has the pilots talking to the air traffic control tower and getting their landing coordinates.

Just before the big one hits, we get the last major removal of any scenes from the theatrical version.  When Graff meets up with his wife Remy (Ava Gardner), the scene of them arguing inside the elevator is removed.  It is pretty obvious why as she claims he has been seeing “that Marshall bitch” and then calls him a “bastard.”  Damn, Remy got a mouth on her.  Is it just a coincidence that seconds after she bitches him out the ground starts shaking and cracking open?

At the one hour mark, we get another new plane scene as the passengers are told to fasten their seatbelts and the captain calls the LAX tower to confirm their approach.

When the earthquake finally arrives, the events basically unfold as they do in the theatrical version.  However, after the chaos scene in Graff’s office (it should be noted the cartoon blood splash in the crashing elevator is removed), we get the payoff to all of this new airplane footage in a new 3-minute scene.  The plane approaches for a landing, but a big crack opens in the middle of the runway.  The pilots land, but then are forced to boost power again so they can take off and not hit that crack.  Their attempt seems to go on forever, making you wonder if they landed on the world’s longest runway.  Lots of jiggling shots of the plane, people screaming, and the cracks in the runway.  Anyway, they make it just in the nick of time and the pilot then calmly says, “Contact air and control for a vector and air clearance to San Francisco. Whew, we made it.  We sure enough made it. We better pray for our families.”

Not surprisingly, none of the earthquake disaster footage is expunged.  After all, this is what the folks came to see. However, one gruesome image is removed in the TV version as the shot of the woman smashed in the face with glass who turns to reveal her bloody face is taken out.  We see the glass pane hit her head, but don’t get the reveal.

This image probably burned its way into millions of kids’ heads in theaters, but now it looks like someone just smacked her in the head with a ketchup bottle.  It is funny this was removed as just a few scenes later we get plenty of shots of bloody men in the collapse of the police station.

A large section of the TV version unfolds exactly the same as the theatrical one before we get the oddest bit of new footage at the 1 hour, 37 minutes and 56 seconds mark.  Character actors Jesse Vint and Lionel Johnston reprise their roles of Buck and Hank, respectively.  Earlier seen harassing Jody at his house, this newly shot footage is post-quake and has the two making their way into a pawn shop.  Now here is why the footage is so odd – despite being a couple of lowlifes, they aren’t there to loot.  They just want to find the watch that Buck pawned.  What!?!  The guys look around and eventually discover Mr. Wyman, the owner, laying dead.


Watching from afar is the owner’s wife (Joan Blair), who is holding a pistol as she listens to the men ransack the place. She finally confronts them and they say how they weren’t trying to steal, just looking for the watch.

She tells them to open up their suitcase on the floor, but they say it isn’t theirs.  They open it up and it is filled with jewelry.  They then have the following exchang

Mrs. Wyman: “What jewelry store did you loot?”
Buck: “Loot? This jewelry in the suitcase belongs to you.”
Mrs. Wyman:  “I never saw it before in my life. You must have stolen it from a shop in Beverly Hills.”
Buck: “Man, I want to tell you this is first class stuff.  This stuff must be worth a fortune.”
Hank: “How about that, the old man must have been a fence?”
Mrs. Wyman: “Lies, lies!”
Hank: “Watch the gun there Mrs. Wyman, he meant no disrespect to your husband.”  (Uh, you just called him a fence.)
Buck: “I want to tell you something, Mrs. Wyman.  I think the police would be very interested in something like this.”
Mrs. Wyman: “Don’t think you can threaten me.”
Buck: “How about that?”
Mrs. Wyman: “Now pick up your suitcase and get out.  I don’t want any stolen goods in my place.”
Buck: “Okay, lady, if that’s what you want.  But I need my watch.”
Mrs. Wyman: “I said go! Go!”

Not only does this scene show a man’s unhealthy love for his watch, it makes absolutely no sense.  We already know Buck and Hank are bastards, so why did the folks writing the new scenes have them as law abiding types only looking for what is theirs?  And why accidentally have these stolen goods fall into their hands.  Was having an old lady seeing her husband outed as a fence more dramatic?  Either way, this segues into the theatrical scene where Buck and Hank (and Alan Vint as Ralph, who they mention they will meet up with in the TV version) are confronted by gun toting Jody. As mentioned earlier, the moment where this trio calls Jody a fag was removed.  But the TV version includes the line where Jody calls them fags.

The film proper unfolds in pretty much the same manner as Graff and Slade go to save some folks trapped underground at Wilson Plaza while everyone worries about the dam bursting.  At the 1 hour, 59 minutes and 31 seconds mark we get a new airplane scene.  We start with a shot of the plane emerging from the clouds (I'm told this is stolen from AIRPORT) and then return to our monotonous married couple.  Kathie says how scared she was and her husband says they were lucky to get seats on this flight and that in a couple of hours they will be in Honolulu.  Glad to hear a major earthquake in the U.S. didn’t cause any hassle at other airports.  The captain then comes over the PA and decides to bring everybody down by informing the passengers about everyone dying in L.A.  He’s basically Mr. Exposition for any viewer who couldn’t follow the complex plot that people are trapped in the basement and the dam is going to break.  Apparently this hits Tony in the heartstrings as he tells his wife, “I’m going to leave you in Hawaii and go back to Los Angeles.” She tries to convince him to wait a few more days (“It’s our honeymoon.”), but there is not stopping him.  Well, he commits to staying with her one day.  Jeez, he must really want out of that marriage!

After Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner bite the dust, we get our final bit of new footage at the 2 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds point.  We return to the bland sky couple as they continue to talk about the events happening thousands of feet below them.  The captain awakens Kathie from a nap with “more bad news.”  He talks about the dam bursting and “at this very moment it is destroying everything in its path.  Los Angeles is being completely demolished.  There is no hope.”  Jeez, did this guy have the fish dinner?  What a sourpuss.  We know it is serious as he asks for a few seconds of silence and then we see a priest do his cross.  Real subtle there, Mr. Additional Director.

Tony again changes his plans (this f’n guy) and says he is going back right away.  Kathie says she is going with him and we get the following winning exchange.

Tony: “No, I think you’d be better off in Hawaii.”
Kathie: “A wife’s place is with her husband.”
Tony: “You mean that?”
Kathie: “That’s the way I was brought up.  And besides, I love you very much.”
Tony: “Los Angeles has to be rebuilt and I want to be a part of it. Okay?”
Kathie: “You’re the boss.”

Wow.  I’m sure when Mitt Romney saw that airing on TV he wiped a few tears away from his eyes.  We then cut back to the theatrical film’s final moments with George Kennedy looking out amongst the rubble.  As the camera pulls back, the TV version adds some new lines as you can hear someone say, “Thank God it’s all over.”  We then cut to the end credits, where the new actors at least get mentioned onscreen.